Brownsville native, scientist, USDA researcher to be honored

August 6, 2018

M. Alma Solis, who grew up in Brownsville and became a world-famous USDA research entomologist, will be among 11 fellows to be recognized Nov. 11-14 in Vancouver, B.C., during the joint annual meeting of the entomological societies of America, Canada and British Columbia.

The purpose of the award is to honor individuals who have made outstanding contributions to entomology and thereby highlight their career accomplishments to inspire all entomologists.

Solis is internationally recognized as a world authority on snout moths, which are tiny insects that infest crops and stored products around the world, an announcement of her appointment states. Her interest in biology started as a freshman at Texas Southmost College in Brownsville, where she went on a field trip to the Rancho del Cielo research station run by TSC high in the mountains of northern Tamaulipas, Mexico, she said.

“It was a big deal, it was my first time away from home without my family,” Solis said during a phone interview last week from her office at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., where she has had a research lab and office since earning her Ph.D. in entomology from the University of Maryland College Park. “It’s not until you start going up the mountain and then you come to an opening, and you see these buildings in there. It was just truly magical, and then you hear this cacophony of birds.”

Rancho del Cielo sits just outside the El Cielo Biosphere in Southern Tamaulipas, one of the most bio-diverse areas in the world. Larry Loff, professor emeritus at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, ran the research station there for TSC and the University of Texas at Brownsville. He remembers when Solis first visited, and afterward when she brought groups of middle school and high school students there on summer field trips.

Solis is a 1974 graduate of Brownsville High School, the last year before it was split. She received scholarship offers to attend college outside Brownsville and out of state but eventually decided to attend TSC, where she graduated Magna Cum Laude. She then transferred to the University of Texas at Austin, where she earned her undergraduate degree in secondary science education and her master’s in biological science.


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